What is Psychology - and What is it not?

Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes, originating from the Greek roots psyche (mind) and ology (study of). The science of psychology is based on objective and verifiable evidence. In order to retrieve accurate information, psychologists use an empirical approach as the standard for the methodology of psychology. The use of careful observations and scientific research are examples of an empirical approach. Pseudopsychology*, or "fake psychology", does not follow the empirical approach and occurs quite frequently in society in the form of fortune tellers, handwriting analysts, and graphologists. People tend to believe pseudopsychology because of Confirmation bias, which is when people trust in evidence that supports their beliefs, but disregard evidence that does not. (Ex. Reading a daily horoscope: one day it fits your mood and you say, "Horoscopes are so true!" but the next day it doesn't and you ignore it.) During the 1990's, a dangerous form of pseudopsychology rose in popularity with the use of facilitated communication, an alleged treatment for the development disorder of autism.

*An easy way to remember that pseudopsychology is "fake science" is to think about how the word "pseudo" is a tricky word, as it is spelled nonphonetically.

Psychology Then: The History of Psychology

Modern psychology was developed from several conflicting traditions and has been constructed based upon the scientific method, which is the testing of a measurable hypothesis. Psychology's roots can be traced to Greek thinking, including that of philosophers Plato and Aristotle. These ancient philosophers observed the effects of our emotions on thinking and perception. Asia and Africa developed their own individual philosophies of the human "mind." Asian philosophies generally believed that mental disease was a result of disconnect from the group. In Africa mental disorders were believed to have stemmed from their deities. One French philosopher, Rene Descartes, in the late 17th century said human sensations and behaviors are based on activity in the nervous system, opening the door for psychology based on empirical evidence. The Greek tradition and the Roman Catholic Church held high levels of influence over Western psychology for centuries.
Different perspectives developed in psychology throughout its history including structuralism, introspection, functionalism, Gestalt psychology, behaviorism, and psychoanalysis.

Structuralism: Wilhelm Wundt
-Focused on structures of the mind, rather than what the mind is capable of.
-Discovered in 1879 at the Institute for Psychology research at University of Leipzig.
-Used introspection: the process of reporting on one's own conscience mind.

Functionalism- William James

-Not just about the structure, but also functions of consciousness.
-The users of functionalism were the first applied psychologists.
-They supported Darwin's theory and focused on how people adapt.

Gestalt Psychology- Max Werthelmer & Wolfgang Kohler

-Opposite of structuralism.
-Studied how the brain works through perceptions.
-The users were interested in perceptual wholes. They didn't focus on little pieces like the structuralists (line, color, shape, etc.) but instead focused on the big picture and how the whole piece is perceived.

Behaviorism- James B. Watson

-The users observed behavior. Behavioralists did not care about what could not be observed (subjective things).

Psychoanalysis- Sigmund Freud

-Believed that disorders come from conflicts in the unconscious mind.
-Believed that humans perceive the world by adding personal interpretations of their experiences.
-Internal and hidden desires of an individual (Sexual, Violent, etc.)

Psychology Now: Modern Perspectives

Psychologists draw conclusions based on one of the nine perspectives they agree with and support. This explains why different psychologists are able to draw different conclusions from the same data regarding a patient.
  • Biological- Focuses primarily on the causes of behavior in the functioning of genes, the brain and nervous system, and the endocrine system. This view puts an emphasis on how our personality, preferences, behavior, and abilities are influenced by our physical makeup. Biological psychology, biology, neurology and other disciplines devoted to understanding how the brain operates are known collectively as neuroscience.
  • Evolutionary/Sociobiology- Focuses on how behavior and mental processes have been genetically adapted for survival and reproduction. This view, proposed by Charles Darwin, comes from the theory of natural selection--the idea that environmental forces have killed the weak and favored the survival of the most adaptive individuals, tracing behavior back to other times/species.
  • Developmental- (Nature vs. Nurture) A part of psychology that studies how organisms develop over time as a result of environmental and biological influences. Psychologists of this perspective focus on studying the ways in which we change with age and as our development of social skills progresses. They also focus on our ability to learn language, and assimilating the expectations of our culture.
  • Cognitive- Deals with mental processes (cognition) like learning, memory, perception, and thinking of them as parts of information processing model. This perspective calls attention to how our actions are influenced by the way we process information streaming in from our environment.
  • Cognitive neuroscience- A study that emphasizes the connections among mind, brain, and behavior. This field puts emphasis on brain activity as information processing and includes fields interested in the link between the brain and mental processes. Hybrid of biological and cognitive.
  • Clinical view- Characterized by a special interest in mental health and mental disorder. This perspective includes two main groups: Psychodynamic psychology and humanistic psychology. Adherents of this view typically practice counseling or psychotherapy. Desires are fueled by need for personal growth and fulfillment.
  • Psychodynamic- This view, most notably represented by Sigmund Freud, pays close attention to unconscious needs, desires, memories, and conflicts in order to further our understanding of mental disorders. Psychodynamic psychology says that our motivation comes from the energy of irrational desires created in our unconscious minds.
  • Humanistic- Centers on and emphasizes human ability, growth, potential, and free will. According to this perspective, our self-concept and need for personal growth and fulfillment are profound influences on our actions.
  • Behavioral- This view sees environmental stimuli as the cause of our actions, not mental processes. There is a focus on the way reinforcements (rewards and punishments) shape the way we act.
  • Sociocultural- This view emphasizes how social interaction, social learning, and culture are all important. Psychologists use this view to examine mysteries such as love, prejudice, aggression, obedience, and conformity.
  • Trait views- According to this perspective, individual differences are derived from differences in our underlying patterns of stable traits (long-lasting personality characteristics). It focuses on personality, and how they affect short-term mood states such as introversion vs. extroversion, as contrasted with temporary mood states.

external image 350px-CleverHans.jpg
Clever Hans was a horse who people believed could solve math problems. What they came to realize was that he couldn't really solve them; instead he watched his owner for body language and subtle movements in order to answer the questions. For example, if he nodded slightly the amount of times that was the answer, Clever Hans would repeat what his owner did. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - >

Psychological Professionals and Areas of Specialization

There are three main categories of psychology occupations: applied psychologists (sports psychologists, school psychologists, clinical psychologists, etc.), experimental psychologists (researchers of basic psychological processes), and teachers of psychology (at high schools, colleges, and universities). Experimental psychologists do the basic research in psychology, then the applied psychologists take their findings and "apply" them to the real world.
Often confused with psychology, psychiatry applies biopsychology and the study of medicine for treatments of mental disorders. Psychiatry is more of a medical practice because a psychiatrist must have a MD and can prescribe medication for their patients if they think it is necessary. Psychologists do the research; psychiatrists do the diagnosing.

Quizlet Practice

Research Methods

Psychology: The Scientific Methodology

Psychology is founded on research and experimentation as well as observations and the analysis of theories. Unlike the followers of pseudopsychology ("psychology" that is used without evidence of it's worth), psychologists can support their data accurately
through the application of the Scientific Method. This method provides a controlled experiment that prevents bias and allows there to be evidence for every aspect. Sometimes people will use an Empirical Investigation, which uses sensory experience and observation.
The Five Steps of the Scientific Method:
1. Form a Hypothesis based on your a system of ideas intended to explain something. Theory is a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena). A theory is not just a guess.

All "operational definitions" should be defined. An operational definition describes the specific conditions of a scientific study.
An example of a hypothesis would be if someone goes running for a while at different speeds, their heart rate will go up a lot. An example of operational definitions would be, "run": Move forward at more than 5 mph, "a while": 10 minutes, "a lot": Give some definition of what a lot means to the person doing the testing. For example a 30 beat per minute increase, "speed": List different speeds that will be tested, 5mph, 10mph, 15mph.
-Operational definitions must be used to describe as many terms within the hypothesis as possible. Another example of an operational definition would be if the hypothesis said a child was going to be tested, even further to say a five year old male.

2. Perform a controlled test
- All of the constants must be defined. A constant is the thing that will stay the same throughout the experiment.
-Define dependent and the one you change.
- An independent variable is the variable that is changed in a scientific experiment to test the effects on the dependent variable, this is measured most accurately by controlling the conditions around it. If the conditions are not controlled, they become confounding variables and could result in inaccurate data results.
-Use Random Presentation during the experiment. This is so nothing appears to be biased or expectant.

Examples using previous running example:
-Constants: location in which the runners will run (for constants it's best to have a bunch of things held the same through out the experiment so that there are less variables impacting the results to be able to give the tester the best data.)
-Independent variable: the different speeds that they will test in the experiment :2, 4, 6, 8, & 10mph
- Random presentation: let someone else do the testing other than you if you are the one wanting the data. by doing this no one knows what the objective of the lab is and what data is "expected"

3. Gather objective data
An example of gathering objective data is to make charts and recording the Data gathered from the experiment on them.
-Data will depend on how the independent variable has been manipulated to influence the the one you measure. The data must not depend on the experimenter's hopes or expectations.
- The purpose of the dependent variable is to measure the data from a study or experiment. It should be based off of the independent variable's responses towards the study.
-Independent Variable is the Stimuli, and the Dependent Variable are the Responses.

4. Analyzing the Results and Accepting or Rejecting the Hypothesis.
The experimenter must look at the data he/she collected to determine whether the hypothesis was accepted or rejected.
Example: if the data shows that the heart rate was greater when the person was running at faster speeds then it "accepts" the hypothesis but if the data showed that for whatever reason the heart rate slowed down as the runners ran faster than this would "reject" the hypothesis.
-Statistical analysis can tell the researcher whether the observed results rise to the level of significance (whether the results are likely due to the independent variable or merely due to chance). In doing this, the data is Quantified.

5. Publishing, Criticizing, and Replicating the Results.
-Researchers find out whether their work can withstand the scrutiny and criticism of the scientific community.
-If colleagues find the study interesting and important (especially if it challenges a widely held theory) they may look for flaws in the research design and Replicate the experiment in order to make sure that the results yielded were accurate.

Non-experimental methods are used when experiments cannot be performed due to ethical/practical reasons. For example, if research is being done on how to cure HIV, we wouldn't give people HIV in order to test our cure because of the fact that the experiment would be would be unethical. In this situation we would have to take Ex-Post Facto into consideration. Non-experimental methods are not true experiments because they are missing a component of the experiment, usually a control, and are therefore sometimes unreliable. Non-experimental methods are ways of gathering information non-experimentally, including the Case Study, Correlation Study, Survey, and Naturalistic observation. Psychologists also obtain new knowledge through observation using Longitudinal Study, research methods that involve observing a population. , and Cohort-sequential study. These methods consist of gathering data and making inferences based on observation, rather than the five step processes. Experiments can produce invalid data if a personal bias or expectancy bias is present. In order to avoid these biases, researchers use the double blind study (an experimental procedure in which neither the subjects of the experiment nor the persons administering the experiment know the critical aspects of the experiment)
-For all research to be considered valid, psychologists must go through the Institutional Review Board (IRB). When animals are tested, you must get clearance through the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
-A cross sectional study is done so that one specific group of people (or section) can be surveyed at the same exact time, this is done in hopes to cut down on bias and confounding variables.
-Double blind studies are done also to limit the amount of bias in a study. This form of study is made so that only the creator of the experiment knows what the independent variable is based on. The researcher and the participant are both completely clueless about what is being tested.

Three Types of Research:

1. Experimental Method:
-The use of Experiments, Controls, and Random Assignment to evaluate a hypothesis.
- variables that correlate negatively or positively with the experiment: unwanted variables like things that you can't control which influence the outcome of the experiment.
(Confounding variables are things in which have an effect on the dependent variable, but were taken into account in the experimental design. For example, a confounding variable could be the family backgrounds of certain subjects.)
-Personal and expectancy bias can negatively alter the results of the experiment, even if the confounding variables are limited. these forms of bias can be eliminated by performing a double blind study, which is when both researcher and participant is not given information about the independant variable being studied.
-Confounding variables can be limited by ensuring all conditions are the same for each element of the study. Counfounding is also referred to as extraneous variables.
2. Non-experimental Method
- Ex-post facto: doing tests on people with a pre-existing condition(s). For example, since it would be unethical to give somebody cancer, you would use people who already have cancer. The problem with this is (using the cancer example), the scientist would have a hard time getting a large group of people who have exactly the same cancer from around the same time and age.

3. Correlational Studies:
-Correlational study: Correlational studies are used to look for relationships between variables. There are three possible results of a correlational study: a positive correlation, a negative correlation, and no correlation. The correlation coefficient is a measure of correlation strength and can range from –1.00 to +1.00.
- Survey: Asking unbiased questions to subjects.
- Naturalistic observation: (In the natural environment of what is being studied).
- Longitudinal studies: one group of subjects can be followed for long periods of times. Longitudinal studies can last a lifetime. Example: A study at Bennington college about how the students were influenced by the schools culture.
- Cross sectional study: is a type of research method often used in developmental psychology, but also utilized in many other areas including social science, education and other branches of science. This type of study utilizes different groups of people who differ in the variable of interest, but share other characteristics such as socioeconomic status, educational background and ethnicity.
- Cohort-sequential study: portion of population chosen and study for a short period of time..

Correlation is not causation!

Sources of Bias:

1. Personal Bias: Allows personal beliefs to affect the outcome. This is close to confirmation bias in that the results are both skewed to focus on what we want the results to be. For example, if a scientist doesn't like people who smoke, the scientist might not knowingly say that smoking has more of a link to cancer than others who do like to smoke.
2. Expectancy Bias: the researchers expectations allows the outcome to be affected; changing memories to fit one's expectations. An example of an observers expectancy bias would be Clever Hans (the genius horse). Wilhelm von Osten gave cues to Clever Hans to answer questions in order to amaze the observers.
3. Double-blind study: both the researcher and the person being interviewed don't know what the test is "supposed" focus on. For example, if a scientist wanted to test an anti-depression pill, neither the subjects or the doctors giving out the pill would know if what subject was getting the sugar pill or the actual pill. This allows an accurate data source.
4. Confirmation Bias: When people pay more attention to results that confirm their beliefs, however ignore those that object it. For example, people will listen to fortune tellers, and if they get something right, then the person is amazed, but will ignore when the fortune teller is wrong. Another example is horoscopes, people will believe their horoscopes when they are good but when the horoscope is bad the person won't believe in the horoscope.

How do we make sense of the Data?

Researchers use statistics for two major purposes:
  1. Descriptively to characterize measurements made on groups or individuals.
  2. Inferentially to judge whether those measurements are the results of chance.

Nothing has been done to the information we collect from participants; therefore, it is known as raw data. Using this raw data, a frequency distribution is made; this distribution can take the form of a histogram. From there, the descriptive data generally is calculated. Descriptive data (descriptive statistics) is the statistical procedure used to describe the characteristics and responses of groups of subjects. The central tendency is measured by the mean, mode, median, and range. Scientists use stastics of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean (The more spread apart the data, the higher the deviation) to describe the average differences between scores and the mean. A normal distribution is a bell-shaped curve, describing the spread of a characteristic throughout a population. In order to ensure the most accurate results in a sample, a random sample is used. Often times, when a sample is meant to represent the entire population, a representative sample is used.

Psychologists then calculate a correlation for the data. Correlation shows a relationship between two or more variables based on its correlation coefficient. It doesn't show cause and effect. It gives us information about the direction and strength of the relationship. Using a set of data to make judgments and predictions is determined by inferential statistics. Correlation isn't the same as causation. We use these to look for the statistical significance in the data. These numbers tell if there is a "significant" difference between the groups that is not simply due to chance.

While correlation is not an exact science and is often speculative, it is a good indicator of patterns and possible future interests of study. Nothing in science is ever exact, but correlation is helpful to make possible connections and observe possible applications of the data collected in the real world. One example is after conducting a study of the liberal vs. conservative views of college students, correlation could explore the relationship between a higher rating of liberal or conservative and feelings toward money (Zimbardo 47). This is a good indicator of something to explore deeper in the future, possibly in a study all its own. It cannot be relied on alone, but it raises questions and could form future hypothesis.

Example of the Importance of the Research Method

The difference between a credible experiment which psychologists (or specialists of any field) will learn from and consider, and potentially build upon, and one that is deemed unreliable and discredited (perhaps even a psuedopsychology study) is the research method. An experiment conducted along the guidelines of the research method will receive attention and be worthy of review and consideration. This is seem through the study done by two students on Health Habits and Corresponding Body Image Across Two Cultures: Japanese and American (Zimbardo 51).

This experiment was first conceived based on a reasonable hypothesis drafted by the students. After preliminary research, a non-biased survey was drafted and sent to random groups of students of equal socioeconomic situations in both Japan and America. The results of the survey were analysed and their hypothesis answered (it was shown incorrect). In their analysis the students discussed design error, but explained the results were still credible enough. They then related this back to their hypothesis and back to the everyday psychology of humans (in this case a selected group, average Japanese and American teenagers.

This experiment was done in accordance with the scientific method, and therefore the results were deemed credible, their findings reported and reviewed by the psychology scholars, and it was a successful experiment.

See Also...

Quick Look at bulleted notes about the Science of Psychology !!!


Research method vocabulary
Research methods

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